By Johnny Coomansingh
Somehow when I began writing this article I found myself drifting in and out of the Trinidadian dialect. I found that this script would best be understood if I resorted partially to the dialect. Something on the landscape of Trinidad piqued my interest so I had to put it to bed. Since December 2003, I have rel toting that particular something. Let me first explain that “toting” is one of the more recent words added to the Trinidadian lexicon. The word explains that when a person is toting they are holding something in their mind for a damn long time and that they are bound to tell somebody. That is when that somebody to whom the story was told, states: “Like yuh toting O wuh?”
Now, let us look at some “toting” scenarios written in the dialect. When ah big man sit dong in ah bar describing tuh he fren and dem how he wife tear dong he pocket fuh chile money and she gih he two hard slap and tell he tuh go home now! He toting. When ah minister run tuh the police tuh lodge ah complaint against he own “flea” after he geh wet dong in the Beetham Estate (formerly known as “Shanty Town”). He toting. Permit me to make just ah lil digression here. Dat minister shoulda buy ah “Roll On-Roll Off” Nissan Tiida and fully establish himself as a “Wet Man.” In Trinidad, for whatever the reason, a man who drives a Nissan Tiida is referred to as a Wet Man. There is more to tote…
When another minister jumped and said that somebody tief the money to fix the roads and bridges. He toting. When ah former prime minister could describe a group of citizens as the “hostile recalcitrant minority.” He rel toting. So toting is not something new. At some point in time, all ah we tote something. Some tote water on dey head in bucket like a certain politician in Caroni, some tote wood for the chulha, some tote dirt tuh lepay the house…it was like “bring dut.com,” bayta. On carnival day we also see some people toting pan. And yes, despite the efforts of the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA), some of us are still toting water in Trinidad. Doh tell mih dat allyuh fellas never tote yuh high school gyul fren book bag when yuh walking home from school.
So what have I been toting for all these years? There was a time when Trincity was covered in sugarcane as part of Caroni (1975) Ltd. There was also a time when I read the words on an ol’ mas placard: “Caroni workers doh want Pan-dey.” We must remember that Basdeo Panday (deceased), was a former prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago and also the former president of the now-defunct Sugar Cane Workers Union. In my estimation, I have figured out that this statement was some kind of blight, curse, obeah or hex against PanTrinbago because it seems that “Pan” cannot ever replace sugar.
It’s simple to conclude that Caroni workers doh want pan-dey in Trincity due to the fact that for over 15 years the PanTrinbago offices have remained “closed.” It’s funny that it was Basdeo Panday, who bequeathed PanTrinbago with the parcel of sugarcane land. Despite the fact that the ministry of education has included the steelpan instrument as part of the school curriculum, a great and noble feat indeed, there seems to be no hope regarding the completion of a decent, permanent home for our beloved steelpan instrument.
When will the building be completed? My best guess is that nobody knows and nobody cares. Since the last government under the People’s Partnership failed to rectify the skeletal condition of the structure, I really thought that the present government would have made an effort to formally open the PanTrinbago offices. Maybe there are political, cultural, social, and financial reasons why nothing more was done to the edifice. I don’t want to mention mismanagement, miscalculation, and misappropriation, normally referred to as bobol in Trinidad.
In terms of the cultural aspect, somebody told me that a jumbie (ghost) is now haunting the building. They said that there was a massive vehicular accident on the Churchill Roosevelt Highway right in front the place and the ghosts of the dead found a home in the building, not to mention the fact that the road to the building is now a “young” la basse (dump/landfill). In 2008 I visited Trinidad and noticed that a new sign was installed and a white fence erected around the structure.
I thought to myself, aha, something is about to happen at last! Disappointment struck! That was it; no further works were done. All I could say is that somewhere, somehow, somebody missed the boat on this one. As I pass through Trincity on the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway, most of the times stuck in traffic, I stare in dismay of what could have been a place of pride, power and identity if we only had the will to finish what we started.
Standing placelessly in the bush and overgrowth that partially envelops what should have been a monument of excellence is now a shameful and wutliss display of who we are as a people. My wish and hope is that we become a people with the vision to see beyond the morass of instant gratification. We cannot continue to live for today with a “doh care ah damn” attitude. As far as the steelpan instrument is concerned, I am not pleased with our development; not at all pleased! We have not taken our creativity, genius, and inventiveness seriously.
The incomplete PanTrinbago offices in Trincity is testament to our attitude about most things in Trinidad. I have to conclude that maybe that is part and parcel of our culture. For whatever the reasons, we got rid of Caroni (1975) Ltd; the sugarcane industry is toast! No more are sugarcane arrows waving in the breeze, but something is preventing the sweet notes of pan from dispelling the ghosts of sugar. Like Sisyphus, I am struggling to push this huge “boulder” up the hill. There is a day coming when I will let it go! For now, I will be content with my toting occupation.